Perpetual Ministry

“All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” Mark 4:28, NIV

An old story tells of a passerby admiring another man’s beautiful garden. Looking over the beautiful blooms, he remarked that God had certainly produced a wonderful garden, blessed with so many beautiful flowers. The gardener, who had been toiling for much of the day in the hot sun and apparently feeling that the admirer did not understand how much work went into producing such a beautiful garden said, “Maybe, but you should have seen it when God was taking care of it by Himself.”

Those who toil in garden and field know that the results simply do not happen on their own. Even in the Garden of Eden, the plants needed care and tending. (See Genesis 2:15) This is even more so today, because the ground will only bring forth abundantly with a great deal of work. This was the result of sin entering the world. (See Genesis 3:17-19) While plants seem to grow magically from the ground, the reality is that unless conditions are just right where the seed is sown, the plant will need a great deal of care to grow to its full potential. Even then, the work is not done.

A farmer who thought that because he could look out upon many acres of ripened grain, he could take it easy for the rest of his life would not be very wise. He must harvest the grain and set aside enough of the seed to plant for the next crop. He cannot store all of his grain from one season for the rest of his days. It will eventually go bad. Instead, he sells it so it can feed many people and not simply his family. Next planting season, he will sow seed for another harvest. He must perpetually renew the cycle in order to sustain his own family and others. In faithfully completing this cycle each year, he finds his reward as others bless him in turn for the blessing he provides to feed their families. Of course, if the farmer tried to sell spoiled grain, he would quickly lose the blessing from others as they would no longer come to him to feed their families. As it is with the farmer, so it is with the Christian.

The work to tend the Lord’s garden and produce a harvest is not without its hardships. Like the farmer seeking a harvest, the Christian worker must first prepare the soil to receive the seed. Jesus told us what success we can expect if the soil is not fertile. (See Luke 8:1-15) Many problems later in the growing season can be avoided by properly preparing the soil. Perhaps many issues that arise later within the new Christian’s experience can be prevented with proper preparation as well. Until the soil is prepared, sowing of the seed may be a waste. From Jesus’ parable in Luke 8, we can see that the soil is the human heart. Thus this initial step is the preparation of the human heart to make it receptive to the seed to be sown.

How do we know when the heart becomes receptive? Perhaps it is like our cats. A cat signals that he or she is receptive by lying on its back and exposing its tummy. The cat is saying it trusts you, as it delightedly waits for some tummy rubbing. It trusts you because experience has told it that you will be kind to it and it feels safe. We see from the gospels that even little children felt safe with Jesus and came to Him. Perhaps we can ask ourselves if people can feel safe entrusting their hearts to us? Have we demonstrated care and compassion? Just as animals respond to these things and come willingly to our call, people are more willing to come to us when they feel safe as well. There are many ways to do this. Needs-based ministry is certainly a formal method often considered. However, on a less formal level, being there to demonstrate our care and concern to our friends and families when they need us is a much simpler way of showing ourselves to be trustworthy.

When hearts are open in trust, the seed can be planted in fertile soil. That seed, according to the parable, is the Word of God. The parable also seems to make a case for a process that does not begin with the Word. That only comes once the heart is ready to receive it.

While there may be a place for directly confronting the lost with Scripture without prior preparation, perhaps that is the exception rather than the rule. The trust that makes a person receptive is a function of friendship, not doctrine. Doctrine does not produce trust, but trust can open the way for doctrine. Even the devil understands this simple principle. He knows that if he can get people to trust him, the way is open for his sophistries. Therefore it is important that Christians actively cultivate the soil of the heart so that the trust is not misplaced. We can only do this if we are perceived as trustworthy.

Once the Word can be sown in the fertile soil of the trusting human heart, the growing plant needs nurture. Water, light, and nutrients are necessary to produce healthy plants. Sometimes we are not happy with simply enabling the plant to grow but instead want to shape the new believers according to our perception of what they should be. We mistakenly treat the young plant as though it was destined to be a Bonsai or an Espalier. We try to force new believers into a form they were never intended to develop. This can be painful for them. The Spirit may be calling them to a ministry we cannot even envision and that we should be enabling. Instead, we sometimes persist in encouraging them to ignore that voice and listen to ours. This also creates more work for us than we were intended to shoulder. We were never meant to do the work of the Holy Spirit for someone else. God’s Spirit already owns that job. Once we accept that, we can instead enable the plant to grow to its true form. When it does, it will produce the harvest it was meant to.

When we enable spiritual growth in this way instead of manipulating it after our own image, miracles happen. Eventually, the plant will begin sowing seed as well. It does not have to think about ways to sow seed. It does it automatically. This is the nature of plants that have everything they need. They propagate more plants. However, if conditions are not right, many plants cannot propagate. We may enable their ministry by making sure they are surrounded with fertile soil. This can only happen in a trusting, safe environment. In our hearts, we know this is true for spiritual growth. If we do not feel safe in the church, we find it hard to feel that others would find the church safe. There will not be enough trust so the Word can be sown in their hearts.

We are also plants that are trying to grow into our spiritual, God-given destiny. We may understand from personal experience how difficult it is to deal with those who want to make us into images of themselves without regards to what God has called us to. As a result, we might not feel safe in the church, either. If we do not feel safe, we cannot find a way to help others feel safe. When that happens, the perpetual cycle of soil preparation, sowing, and nurturing to fruitfulness ceases, and a church can begin to die.

Those who want to force the spiritual experience of others often have the same effect as pouring herbicide on a fertile field. Eventually, the soil may become fertile again, but it will take time and much more effort than it did before. Once trust is destroyed, it is hard to rebuild it. It may even be impossible. And it can even go to multiple generations.

More people have likely turned their backs on the church because of not feeling safe and nurtured than because of disputes over doctrine. I cannot recount how many times I have visited non-attending members and they have recounted experiences where instead of finding nurture in the church, they found criticism and a controlling spirit.

We can understand this because it is not too hard to find examples in our own experience. Many of us know a church member that loves to tell others that they are worshiping the devil by celebrating Christmas, even though the church teaches no such thing. We probably know church members who condemn others for listening to contemporary Christian music, even though there is no prohibition on that in the baptismal vows. We even know those who teach that one must be vegetarian to enter heaven without seeing death, even though the Bible gives clear examples to the contrary,  and vegetarianism is not a requirement to belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Some would have others believe that they must accept the idea of a grand conspiracy by the Illuminati or some other group. Some even promote the idea that you must support a particular politician or political agenda to be a Seventh-day Adventist. None of these things are listed as requirements for church membership either in the church’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs or in the baptismal contract. If we support such things, we should recognize we may be creating an image of Adventism after our own understanding, an image that is powerless to save anyone.

If we want to enjoy a perpetual cycle of ministry, a cycle where we can prepare human hearts to trust the Word, a cycle where the Word can be nurtured in the heart so it can grow to sow seed and also produce a harvest, we need to avoid these things that poison the soil and destroy trust. If we present a strange gospel of conspiracies and political intrigues, we will be like a farmer providing spoiled grain to his neighbors. They will cease to come to be fed and will go elsewhere to feed themselves and their families. God will still feed them, but we won’t be a part of it. When the grain is spoiled, we will not even be able to feed ourselves.

Scripture marked (NIV) taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.



Perpetual Ministry — 11 Comments

  1. Hello Stephen,

    God bless your ministry and the sharing of this insightful article. Often in our zeal to "do" God's work we can tend to try to do the work of the Holy Spirit and with disasterous results. I appreciate your point about imposing a "conditional" approach to becoming a Seventh-day Adventist in order to come to Jesus. Praise the Lord for God's Saving Grace that it is unconditional but for us to accept and believe in Him, in order to be saved. Blessings

  2. Praise God! This was so insightful. As Christian Adventists we must focus on the main thing: to live out God's love and share the gospel of His salvation for us all. This article made even clear the role we play as Christians with our witness (being kind, encouraging, supportive, and Spirit-led) and our ministry (following the commissions set forth by God in His Word and led by the Holy Spirit).

    Many of us like to do things our way not yielding to the Spirit and knowing what Christ is really like and focusing on how we need to be like Him in our witness. We must never forget that it's not about the work alone. We need to cultivate and live out a loving faith relationship with the LORD. When we understand that and have it we can share it and then we are engaged in the true work of the LORD not just or own distorted agendas which cannot save souls.

    How inspiring! My prayer is that I can have a personal ministry like the one described in your article.

    • Thank you, Tahisha. My experience is that if you do what is close at hand, God will magnify and bless that ministry. May He do that for you in every way.

  3. Happy Day of Sabbaths, happy Scriptural Pentecost Sabbath to you who are still within that time zone of June 30, 2012!

    Yes, Stephen, trust is key to most everything! Even Satan knows that, and that is key to the survival of his kingdom. And it is only too easy for each and every one among us to be brainwashed into sustaining his messages, his messengers, and his kingdom... even by something as simple as never saying or doing a thing about stopping such habits, such traditions, and such messages, not even in our very own lives, much less in the lives of any other. In effect, by keeping our silence, we are co-conspirators, volunteering to teach error by our own influence and by our own inherited blindness... We may not be paid for our services, yet we may still be serving the same purposes by being influenced to serve as soldiers in his army while being fooled to believe that we are serving the one true God.

    That's where your words "prepare human hearts to trust the Word..." proves to be key. To do that, it is necessary first to make the study of the Word of God each our own reality. Trusting no one but the Holy Spirit to be our ultimate Guide and Teacher in that study is key. Seeking the counseling of others more experienced and better studied is always wise, but seeking the clearance and a final stamp of approval from anyone among men when the Holy Spirit has already made things clear is much the same as bowing down to Satan, much the same as the third temptation Yeshua experienced after his 40 days of fasting in the desert...

    Yes, trust is everything, but there is a choice of allegiance! There is a choice regarding whom we choose to trust! Regarding whom we chose to belong to... Cf. 1 Sam 8, most especially verse 18!

  4. Thank you for all your comments. It is my first time in this site and I am a new Adventist, not yet baptized. I come from a long life in Pentecotal church but I was led by the Holy Spirit to keep the Sabbath day holy. This was followed by reading Scripture and books like Desire of Ages and Great Controvesey. Your comments, everyone have encouraged me because before I moved into this church, I had already been given by my Lord, a project which is Christian. This is in Africa, very poor place where conditions are harsh for the inhabitants. We first of all built a church and it is functioning. The church worships on Sundays, being Pentecostal, but it is amazing that the Lord has prepared that we have all the community children coming to the Centre (where the project is}, every Saturday in the past 8 years. The majority of these children come from Moslem families. All these children go into church, learn the Bible, go out for recreation with all the other children living in the orphanage, and have lunch together. I do not know what the Lord is planning to do because we have a Pentecostal pastor there leading the church and there is a congregation which has been growing over the years. New people join every year in this remote part of Africa.

    My point here is, the way you have explained that we should approach people with love and let the Holy Spirit do the saving, is giving me hope that He will show us what to say and to lead this small church to keep the Sabbath Day. We are in England and the project is in Africa. We only go there once a year. Please pray for us that the Lord will guide us and for the future of this work. God bless you. Elvida

    ps. pray also for my husband Victor that He will come to Jesus.

    • Elvida, thanks for your prayer request. I have added it to my daily prayer time. I'm sure God will speak to your situation in powerful ways according to His grace and mercy.

  5. Blessings! This is awsome, i just bumped into this website for the first time this morning, trying to study my lesson on-line as my quarterly has not arrived yet this quarter, and praise the Lord, i have never had a better insight to the sabbath school lesson as I have this one. Brother Steve, praise the Lord for your ministry, may you grow from strength to strength in His knowledge as you help babies like me to grow with insights like this.The Lord is really using you, praise His name. Moyo, England

    • Thank you, Moyo. If anything I have written has been helpful to you, I give thanks to God who makes up for our imperfections and covers them with grace. My writing is only human. It is God that speaks to hearts through his Holy Spirit.

  6. This lesson is very vital in most of the churches especially for members involved in soul winning. I have experienced it too, that we often tend to push issues on to new convents instead of letting the the holy spirit do its work. As a result many don't grow to their full spiritual potential, many of our members are doing just like the pharisees by looking down on other churches instead of shadding light unto them. There is a need to encourage this lesson from the Unions to Fields and down to Church level just awaken the masses of the current trend in contrast to the right ways.


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